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Foresters, biologists, planners take on the “fundamental impacts” of Climate Change

July 7, 2014

Governments and businesses rely heavily on the advice of professionals on a wide range of environmental, resource management and land use planning decisions. That’s why it’s critical that the professionals who are making key decisions about our ecosystems and the evolution of our communities know about current climate science, and incorporate it into their recommendations to government and industry.

West Coast Environmental Law is excited that four BC professional associations – representing 9,000 foresters, biologists and planners – are showing the way – today (July 8th) publicly releasing an unprecedented “Professional Leadership in a Changing Climate: Joint Statement”.  The Association of BC Forest Professionals (ABCFP), the Association of Professional Biology (APB), the College of Applied Biology (CAB), and the Planning Institute of BC (PIBC) explain their joint statement in their press release:

The Joint Statement commits the professional associations to take steps to enable and encourage their members to “incorporate the best available climate-science into [their] professional decisions.” As well, the professional associations ask all levels of government to support the role of professionals through “strong action and leadership on climate change.”

BC's professionals recognize that the province is already causing "fundamental impacts" to BC's communities and ecosystems.

An Unprecedented Joint Statement

So what does the Joint Statement say, and why do we say that it’s unprecedented?

There are a handful of position statements about climate change from individual professional associations (for example, the recent statements made by the ABCFP and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC), but to our knowledge, this is the first time that different professional associations have pooled their perspectives and experiences to develop a joint statement.

The Joint Statement explicitly recognizes the role of professionals in responding to both the factors that cause climate change (“mitigation”) and the changes that we are going to experience as a result of climate change (“adaptation”).  And it recognizes that climate change imposes new and challenging responsibilities on the associations and their members:

Professionals are required to use the best available science in making our decisions, and so we, the resource and planning professional associations of British Columbia, recognize that climate change is occurring and it has fundamental impacts on British Columbia’s communities and ecosystems. We know the importance of both reducing the presence of greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere (climate change mitigation) and in adapting our society and ecosystems to prepare for climatic changes (climate change adaptation).

Our members have crucial roles to play in both climate change mitigation and adaptation; their knowledge, expertise and professionalism are key parts of the solution. But they also have important professional and ethical responsibilities related to the changing climate.  Professional associations have an obligation to define those responsibilities and to provide the training and structures that will allow members to meet their responsibilities to their clients and to the public. [Emphasis added]

The Joint Statement, which should be read in its entirety (it’s only 2 pages), goes on to make a series of more specific commitments about those professional and ethical responsibilities and the specific commitments of the professional associations.  Some of the highlights include:

  • Expecting their members to incorporate climate science into their decisions,
  • Evaluating whether key professional decisions included “appropriate consideration of climatic changes;”
  • Commitments to collaborate in providing climate-related training for their members and to work with government and other agencies to provide their members with appropriate scientific information; and
  • Continued collaboration going forward.

But the Joint Statement doesn’t stop there, but also asks all levels of government to provide leadership on addressing climate change, including providing resources that will allow professionals to address climate change effectively, including asking for leadership in adaptation planning and climate data acquisition and a review of a range of provincial laws in light of climate change. 

In our view, the Joint Statement is unprecedented for several reasons. 

  • First, that four professional associations worked together to release a joint statement that is, in our view, stronger than any one of the associations had previously released. 
  • Second, that statement acknowledges the responsibilities of professionals and professional associations in relation to both climate mitigation and adaptation – which goes beyond most, if not all, statements by professional associations that we have reviewed.   Importantly, the statement confirms the responsibility of the associations’ members to incorporate climate change into their decision-making. 
  • Third, that the associations recognize that they will be most effective in addressing climate change in conjunction with strong leadership from government, and make some specific requests of government to assist them in their work – which is again extremely unusual among the professional association statements that we have reviewed. 
  • Fourth, that the four associations view the Joint Statement as a first step only – and commit to an ongoing dialogue on their collective responsibilities on climate change.

A round of applause, please

West Coast Environmental Law applauds the hard work that the four professional associations have done in developing this Joint Statement. 

We have long challenged professional associations to provide direction on climate change to their members, and we’re particularly pleased to have played a role in the development of this Joint Statement; as the Associations mention in a backgrounder that accompanies the Joint Statement, they first began their collaboration, and the discussion that resulted in this joint statement, at a 2013 Forum that West Coast Environmental Law hosted along with the BC Government’s Climate Action Secretariat. We have also played a resource role to the associations as they developed the Joint Statement, which is very much in keeping with the recommendations we made in our 2011 Report, Professionals and Climate Change

If you’re a member of one of the four professional associations that signed onto the Joint Statement, I hope that you’ll congratulate your association for taking this important, and historic, first step. In fact, if you’re not a member, feel free to congratulate them.

If you are a member of a professional association that should sign on, why not send them a copy and ask them to endorse it – or to develop their own direction to their members on how to address climate change?

It’s important that professional associations hear from their members (and from the general public) that action on climate change is important, and that leadership will be recognized and appreciated.

By Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer

Photo courtesy of TheMightyQuill under a Creative Commons Licence.